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Long List of Fixes, But Silver Line Opening and Cost Overrun Still Unknown

by Karen Goff April 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm 9 Comments

Silver Line construction/Credit: Fairfax CountyWhen the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Metro came to an agreement on Silver Line turnover on Thursday, it was hailed from Capitol Hill to Dulles Airport as a major step towards getting the rail extension open this summer.

But at what cost?

The project is already seven months behind schedule and will be missing a project manager since Pat Nowakowski announced last week he is leaving the job. It is also $150 million over budget.

And those are just the issues before one starts to look at the list featured in the agreement, which includes more than 50 items, some of them major system woes that need to be addressed before passengers can safely ride the line.


The Silver Line’s Phase 1 will run from East Falls Church to Reston’s Wiehle Avenue. Dulles Transit Partners, the contractor building the line, submitted for “substantial completion” on April 9, the same day $25,000-a-day penalties were slated to begin under the terms of the contract with MWAA.

The submission was actually a resubmission as DTP, a division of Bechtel, also filed on Feb. 7 — and MWAA found issues of 7 of 12 areas in its review.

Those issues were supposed to be fixed before MWAA could accept the project to turn over to Metro. MWAA said Thursday it was accepting the project as substantially complete, even if dozens of punchlist items were, in fact, not complete.

Metro said if the agency waited until MWAA completed all the necessary work before taking custody of the project, passenger service probably wouldn’t begin until late 2014 — about a year behind schedule.

But there is still no opening day in site and fixes ranging from “ponding in stations” to automatic train control glitches to “waterproofing at Wiehle Station are not exactly quick cosmetic fixes.

“The deal MWAA struck with WMATA yesterday makes a farce of the concept of ‘substantial completion,’ ” says Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston Citizens Association’s Reston 2020 Committee. “Instead of verifying and certifying that DTP has built the Silver Line to contract specifications before turning it over to WMATA for testing and training, MWAA is passing off a poorly and incompletely constructed rail line with a 50-item laundry list of work that needs to be done before WMATA may accept it.  Some of that work is simple, but some of it will be difficult, expensive, and time consuming to complete.”

Maynard is concerned about what the cost to MWAA — and ultimately the taxpayer — will be to make the fixes. Under the terms of the agreement, MWAA must:

  • Reimburse WMATA (Metro) for costs it has incurred in providing technical advisory services as a direct result of the line not being completed on Sept. 9, 2013.
  • Cover Metro’s cost of having two employees, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring the Horton Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), which help run the crucial Automatic Train Control software. As mentioned in a $1.8 million contract MWAA awarded last week to a New York company, the current controls are below par and replacing and upgrading could take a year.
  • MWAA will also pay Metro the costs of managing said contract with Alstom Signaling.

“The delays, repairs, and new construction requirements in the MWAA-WMATA deal will all cost money, probably tens of millions of dollars although no one has told the public what the cost will be,” said Maynard. “Worse, we don’t have any idea who will pay for all this. ”

Maynard says if the costs are shared under the funding partners agreement among MWAA, Loudoun, and Fairfax counties, it means that Dulles Toll Road users will end up paying about two-thirds of the added cost.

“It makes no sense whatsoever that toll road users should pay for the failure of DTP to meet its contractual obligations or the failure of MWAA to make sure that it did.”

MWAA officials said last week about $23 million is available in its contingency fund.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said Thursday that Metro will likely take control of the line next month and that allowing MWAA to complete the items after that will help get the line open this summer.

Sen. Mark Warner (D), who met with MWAA officials this week, says both agencies need to get the project done correctly and quickly.

“I strongly encourage MWAA and WMATA to maintain a sense of urgency so that we will see the Silver Line up and running before the end of summer,” he said in a statement. Warner has been critical of the Silver Line’s delays for months.

“I urge everyone involved to pull together to get the remaining punch-list issues resolved quickly so we can move forward to the crucial safety testing. Too many travelers and taxpayers have waited too long for these final steps not to be resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

  • North Restonian

    Bechtel is based in San Francisco.

    • Karen Goff

      They have a giant office in Reston, so for our purposes, they are reston based.

    • Terry Maynard

      Here is what Bechtel says about its Reston location: “Our Reston Town Center office will be the headquarters for Bechtel’s
      corporate operations, as well as our U.S. government services business
      unit and our civil works business for North America.”
      FInd it here: http://www.fairfaxcountyeda.org/companies/bechtel

      • North Restonian

        If that were the only thing to go on, I’d agree with you. This page says they’re based in San Francisco http://www.bechtel.com/offices.html

        • vdiv

          “The first thing you should know about us is… we have people everywhere.”
          — Mr. White

  • North Restonian

    OK, but at a minimum, you’re misleading your readers and at maximum you’re being willfully ignorant. If a reporter said that to me when I was editing their copy I would have immediately a. changed it anyway (to something like “Bechtel, which has a large Reston presence”) and b. checked every other fact in the story.

    It does not reflect well on you when you’re unwilling to say oops sometimes; it’s not like it’s hard to change — it’s a CMS, for heaven’s sake.

    If you’d like people to send typos and other material to a private email where you WILL correct stuff, please let me know what it is.

    • Karen Goff

      I welcome feedback of all types. If you want to email me privately my email is [email protected]. On daily basis, I say “oops” and “thanks for the pointing out the error.” and then I go in and fix the error — I am a staff of one, and I know many typos get through. However, the Reston/Bechtel thing is not an error. Nor is it willfully ignorant.

      But in the spirit of I really don’t want to spend my time arguing on my day off, I took it out anyway.

  • Jenny Gibbers

    Even thou I don’t particularly care about Bechtel, they are just one of many large corporations trying to get by in very difficult times.
    The problem that we’re dealing with is entirely political. Politicians have and always will make the mistake of thinking the electorate is stupid, because its exactly the reason why they get the votes. So here, politically what has happened is that midway through the project someone raised the issue of non-union labour and that is when Ken, Carlos and Mitch “forgot” to tighten the bolts. So in this day and age if you don’t allocate 25% of all your project costs to oversight – from the get go – then chances are, you will have a big problem.
    So yes, blame Bechtel. The elected ones will thank you. Tools.

  • K the truth teller

    To hell with where Bechtel is based. You stupid idiots insist on voting for these corrupt incompetent democrats who can’t seem to actually get anything done and then saying what about the cost? What about my money? What happened to the schedule? And Mark Warner is urging people to hurry along? We’re how far behind schedule?? We’re how much over budget?? WTF? I’m just sorry I can’t vote for Moran again. What do we say about people who can’t learn? Oh yeah, they’re STUPID!


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